News From Ramaz
By Rabbi Justin Pines, MS Mashgiach Ruchani
"Mah Nishtana Ha Lila Hazeh Mikol Haleilot?' Why is this night different from all other nights? Why is the Seder so focused on questions? We have a mitzvah from the Torah for parents to teach their children about yetziat mitzrayim. It doesn't say anything about questions. So why is there such a large focus on questions?
I think Chazal, the rabbis, are trying to show us that the best learning and growing happens through asking questions. Sometimes we try really hard to answer the most questions in class. We want to prove how much we know. But maybe we should be focusing on asking the best questions in class. I know as a teacher, that I learn the most from you when you ask questions. It helps me to think of things I haven't thought of before we learned together. An answer closes an idea. That's the end. It's answered. But a question - a question opens a discussion. It gets us to think differently.
It's not just in the classroom. If we are talking to a friend, and they are telling us a story, we can give them an 'answer' - this is what you should do. Or we can tell them the story it made us think of - this made me think of me. Or, maybe, we can offer a question. We can ask a question to help them think more deeply about what they are saying.
Or sometimes when we look at someone, we are quick to judge them - we decide what's going on for them, instead of asking. Someone cuts me on line, and I might assume, wow that person thinks they are better than everyone else and they can cut the line. But what if we asked nicely, is everything okay? I see you are cutting the line. Maybe there is truly something urgent and important that requires them cutting the line.
Or maybe a group of us are playing a sport, and someone is sitting on the sidelines. We can assume that person is only there to watch. Or we can ask - hey, did you want to join us? Are you interested in playing?
Remember what we said last year - how do you 'win' a conversation? Not by being the person who talks the most, but by being the person who learns the most. To learn, we have to ask questions.
Maybe this is why the 4th son at the Seder is not called "she'aino yodeah lilmod" - who does not know how to learn. Instead, he is called 'she'aino yodeah li'shoal' - he does not know how to ask. It all starts with asking questions.
In school, at home, with out friends, and at the Seder, let's try to learn how to ask. Before we answer, or launch into our own story, or make a judgment about someone, let's try to ask a question.